Young Guns: Little experience for Big East QBs
A year ago, Rutgers' Tom Savage and USF's B.J. Daniels had never taken a snap in a Big East game, and yet as their sophomore seasons are about to begin, they line up, somewhat unbelievably, as the most experienced starting quarterbacks in the conference.
Across the league, there are largely unproven passers leading their teams into the 2010 season -- the eight projected starters this fall have combined for 41 career starts. By comparison, USF's Matt Grothe went into last season with 38 starts all by himself. Savage is the dean of the league quarterbacks with 11 career starts, one more than the Bulls' Daniels.
"That's amazing," said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart, whose starter, sophomore Geno Smith, has never started a college game. "A sophomore is the most veteran guy in the league. It's unpredictable, but I think it's exciting. It makes things interesting. You have to get a lot of people involved in your offense."
Pittsburgh is nearly a unanimous preseason favorite to win the league, despite having a raw quarterback in sophomore Tino Sunseri, who attempted 17 passes as a backup last season. Cincinnati's Zach Collaros has just four career starts, but all four were Big East wins last season, giving him one more league victory than Daniels or Savage.
"It's exciting -- I think there are a lot of great quarterbacks in this conference," Collaros said Tuesday. "Tom Savage at Rutgers had a great year last year as a true freshman ... B.J. Daniels is another one who got kind of thrown into the fire and had a great year last year. I love watching him play. Zach Frazer at Connecticut is another guy who played well against us last year. ... When you get into Big East play, teams know your strengths and weaknesses, so there's not many surprises, unless there's an injury and a new guy comes in."
That's what Collaros and Daniels did last season, filling in after injuries to Tony Pike and Grothe. Daniels now has the benefit of an entire offseason of preparation in anticipation of being a starter, and all the little things he learned in his first season leading the Bulls.
"Last year, I felt I could get out there and do it, that it wasn't that hard," Daniels said. "You actually get out there live, and it's completely different. But having a year under my belt is definitely a confidence booster. Last year, I was picking up and learning stuff, as a person, as a quarterback, as a student and a man, on and off the field, game by game, each week by week. I soaked up everything I could, and this year will be no different. I have to continue to try to get better."
The young quarterbacks have played in big games -- Daniels, Savage and Frazer all led their teams to bowl victories last season, combining to throw just one interception in a combined 70 passes in those bowls. And they were surprisingly accurate -- Collaros had 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions, while the other four returning quarterbacks all had more touchdowns than interceptions last season.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said it's never easy going into a season with an inexperienced quarterback, but leadership can emerge in a hurry sometimes.
"When you look around the league, there are guys who have been in programs and practiced a heck of a lot," Schiano said. "But I don't think it's the same as games. A game is a different entity, and I do think there are growing pains that go along with having a new quarterback, there's no doubt about it. Hopefully for the teams that do, I'd like there to be serious growing pains. ... If a guy can play and he's got the right stuff, people are going to follow him. We're in such a performance-driven deal that if you can make plays, people will follow you."